Monday, December 12, 2005

A Deafening Silence

It’s Monday, and I’m tidying up my office after the busy weekend. My eyes fall across an open Bible, and the words of the shepherd turned prophet Amos look back at me. “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.”
And for perhaps the first time, I ponder the tragedy of the heavens clanging shut with a deafening silence. My soul, for a brief moment, tastes the thirst of being parched for the Living Water, I experience the curious emptiness of having no Bread . . . and in that moment a snack becomes a feast, and I savor the fulfilling meat of His Word once again.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Arrows, warriors, and misspent youth

“Discipline your son,” the master said, “and he will give you peace.”
“But how shall I discipline,” the student pondered, “when I have none myself?”

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Strong words to weak shepherds

A friend gave me one of those Bibles that's broken up into daily readings. The idea is that you can read through the Bible about 15 minutes a day and have the whole thing done in a year. (I presume you then repeat the cycle rather than simply saying, "Well, I've read that! Now to move on!" ;-) ) Nice idea. I'm looking forward to this helping me grow in my spiritual discipline.

Today's reading struck me. It was from Ezekiel--that wildest and wierdest of prophets--and the Lord was speaking to Ezekiel in chapter thirty-four regarding the shepherds of Israel. Not the regular shepherds, but the spiritual ones. In the Old Testament they were called priests, and today we might call them a pastor.

One of the most notable features, in my mind, of the OT priests is that they were to subsist entirely off of what the Israelites brought for offerings. The priests would get a portion of the sacrifice and be allowed to eat it, and the Lord would get His portion. In this fashion the Lord ensured that the people would always have their priests (no distractions of having to earn a living, so the priests could always be there to do their priestly duty) and that the priests would always be cared for. I kind of like that concept, and generally look to it as God's structural model for ministry among His people.

But the spiritual shepherds of Ezekiel's day abused that privilege--they were doing ministry just to get the metaphorical wool and the meat and the curds of the sheep. They were doing it for the perqs, not for the ministry.

It's a heart-check moment for me. People have always said things to me like, "Oh, I know you'd do ministry for nothing." . . . and I always wonder if I truly would. Now, I have plenty of good reasons for not doing ministry for free; just add up the kids around the table and you can see what I mean. Kids need food, they need clothes, they need a place to live, and it's my responsibility to give that to them. To do that, I do NEED money, and so it would be irresponsible to take no salary at all for my work at the church.

Yet I also need to keep the Lord's warning to Ezekiel in mind. Why? Well, frankly, because I'm a greedy old so-and-so. Just like anyone else, I want to get the most I can. But I'm not called to this church to serve myself, but others. So I have to be on the prowl, looking out for my greed to sneak back in and get me wanting more.

So in the end, should I do ministry for nothing? No--God has also given me financial responsibilities as a parent and husband, and I do need a salary for them. But should I do ministry as though I would do it for nothing? Should that, in effect, be my attitude? It seems the answer is yes!

I don't do ministry to get things, but to give Christ. But neither do I refuse what God has established as being rightfully mine simply because I'm in a spiritual occupation. But it is--as always--a matter of priorities. Who's on top? Who's first? God is, and I follow His leading. And along the way, I receive with thanksgiving the gifts He has chosen to give me.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Not blogged for a while . . .

And that kind of bugs me. Have I run out of things to say? (Though some may--rightfully--ask, "Did he EVER have something to say?" :)) I don't believe that, it seems as though other priorities have crowded out this time.

Which is sad, because I often use blogging as a time for self-reflection. Putting words on paper (paper??) helps me to organize them, to reflect upon them. Blogging freezes my thoughts into a static state, allowing me to see them with new eyes.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Old life and old friends . . .

Visits from old friends are quite nice.

Life today is good!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Time's Fool

Found this on one of my favorite sites. Ship of Fools is a site where Christians pick on themselves in satire and sometimes even brutal comedy. The recurring column by Andrew Rumsey is, however, quite intriguing and profound. You'll need to translate a bit into good ol' American English, but it's well worth it.

Praying today that you'll get the Divine joke.

Time's fool

RIDING IN HEARSES, as I do quite often (it's that huge boot – you can get so much in) is a singular experience. The sense of suspended reality it affords is due in part to slow motion, wheezing along at a stately 15 miles per hour whilst the traffic tapeworms behind you. It's also to do with other people's response, many of whom stop to cross themselves as you pass – something that only rarely happens to me when on foot – and their always allowing for you, letting you through, moving at your pace. It's a little like being in The Truman Show.Just recently, my limousine had inexplicably broken from the pack somewhere around South London's Heart of Drabness, Thornton Heath, and arrived at the cemetery with several minutes spare for the driver and myself to get to know each other a little better.As we stood stiffly by the graveside, he leant over and, in the conspiratorial tone beloved of undertakers, remarked, "I don't know whether you've observed this, sir, but if you look closely around the cemetery, you'll notice that all the headstones face towards Croydon.""It's quite deliberate," he added, just to hit the nail home.I gawped around like a halibut, and realized to my astonishment that he was quite correct. Taking myself in hand, I recovered sufficiently to counter that, if my friend were to look even closer, he might detect the residents ever so slowly turning back the other way. Nevertheless, his remark had left a deep impression: the thought of so many prone souls gazing for all eternity, not on the heavenly Jerusalem, but on this high-rise, pedestrianised purgatory was both hilarious and horrific. In the midst of life, we are in Deptford, as the poet Martin Newell remarked – but in the midst of death I do not intend to be in Croydon.AND YET THIS MEMORABLE EPISODE reinforced for me the vital truth that mortality is the basis of all humour. That and funny jokes, of course. In his wonderful book Wishful Thinking, American novelist Frederick Buechner suggests that one of the most significant passages in the Bible is where God tells Abraham and his nonagenarian wife, Sarah, that they are about to have a child. They proceed to snort their sandals off (Abraham "falling on his face" with merriment, according to Genesis chapter 17), while God keeps up the fun by telling them they are to name the boy Isaac, which, in Hebrew, means laughter. Buechner's explanation is well worth quoting in full:"Why did the two old crocks laugh? They laughed because they knew only a fool would believe that woman with one foot in the grave was soon going to have her other foot in the maternity ward. They laughed because God expected them to believe it anyway. They laughed because God seemed to believe it. They laughed because they half-believed it themselves.""Faith", he concludes, "is laughter at the promise of a child called laughter". Comedy lies in the gaps between what we ought to be, what we are, and what we just might be one day. Comic timing relies on eternity being written into the heart of man, and man knowing the absurd shortfall: bathos – the lapse from sublime to ridiculous – is thus a part of the comedian's stock-in-trade. In the biblical story, though, God appears to fool around with this familiar routine in the person of Jesus, whose resurrection rewrites the joke about the bloke who's alive, but then dies. The timing seems to be all over the place, but, for those who get it (and Christianity is a gag that plenty don't), the divine punchline makes sense of everything that went before. Moreover, it allows them to fool around with their time and place, too, until Kingdom come – in Thornton Heath as it is in heaven.Those who really glimpse this eccentric vision are quite often depressive, or slightly unhinged – or both, as was supremely the case with William Blake, artist, poet and Test Cricket fan. A South Londoner himself, Blake's most balanced and clear-headed act seems to have been attempting to persuade his father at the age of ten that he had seen hosts of angels in a tree on Peckham Rye (to which his father no doubt responded, nonsense, boy, there are no trees on Peckham Rye).Blake's epic, Jerusalem, is a cracked and fantastic epiphany of England infused by paradise, of earthly and heavenly places overlapping and time redeemed. To see and feel as he saw and felt is dazzling and disturbing in equal measure, and sufficient to make the mooniest poet sober up and rush to do something mundane, like fill in their tax return.As for me, a slow car to Croydon is just the thing to bring me down to earth's pregnant pause and graveside grin, grasping at the promise of Isaac. Abraham and Sarah got the joke, and it was counted to them as faith.

And now the time returns again:Our souls exult, and London's towersReceive the Lamb of God to dwellIn England's green and pleasant bowers.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

I’m a little more than useless . . .

Today was perhaps the first day in a long, long while that I realized, with happy joy, that God can and does indeed use me. He does have a place, a plan, and a use for me after all.

Inwardly I’ve doubted that for some time now. Certainly I “knew” the truth—that God has a plan for each of us, that God has a mission and a ministry for each of us. But inwardly I couldn’t quite believe that it was true of me.

I know that I’m 1 part perfectionist, 1 part my own biggest critic, and 1 part chief of sinners. I hold myself to a higher standard than probably anyone else on the face of the earth does. So it gets frustrating when I my performance doesn’t match up to my own expectations. My heart—which already seems so full of pain and regret for what could have been—becomes as a stone weight inside my chest. I can feel its pressure pushing . . . pushing . . . pushing.

I’m not sure how long this path of cardiac alchemy—of changing a heart of stone into a heart of living flesh—may take. I do know at least part of that depends upon me, upon my willingness to be, as my tagline says, “Real” . . . to be willing to be hurt, to be willing to suffer, to be willing to suffer the pains of healing and growth. But in reality it depends upon what paths God chooses for me, the roads He causes me to walk down as He molds, shapes, and chisels away at the cold granite. Not only my heart but my hurt lay in the skilful hands of the One before Whom all my paths truly lie.

It is that same God who, despite my ignorance of His workings, been using me as His sacred tool all along. Hence my joy at discovering this truth anew.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

"Could this blog BE more empty in substance?"

Funny! That's the exact thing an "anonymous" comment said to me. I love those kind of things. . . . "I'm going to tell you exactly the way I feel and really let you have it, but I'm not going to tell you my name!" You just gotta love people like that; all talk and no guts, all show and no backbone.

Nah . . . maybe that's a bit harsh. I suppose it may be. After all, at the very least the classic "anonymous note" provides a bit of laughter over the fallen condition of mankind at the end of the day. At the very most, it could provide an opportunity for self-reflection.

So, thanks, "anonymous". Your comment provided me with a bit of a self-indulgent chuckle tonight, a little laugh at someone who often takes himself too seriously--myself! Me, the big preacher man, nothing more than a vacuous, egocentric blowhard! Could I be emptier in substance? Oh, YOU BET I COULD! :D:D:D

Reminds me that God and not me is the center of the universe, that I'm just God's tool, and that only my ego thinks it's the other way 'round.

"Anonymous" . . . you have a good night. The laugh's on me!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

What if . . .

The world was like The Matrix? You know, where these powerful creatures had deluded everyone into thinking the world was just a fine and dandy place, but secretly they controlled everything that went on? And there was only one person who could restore true reality and save all of mankind, but that he had to die in the process?

. . . oh, wait. Guess that's not a "what if?" question after all! :)

BTW--been playing "The Matrix" on the ol' GameCube. Got me to thinkin', it did.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

An open letter to President Kieschnick

President Kieschnick,

I read recently in Christian News that a class action lawsuit has been filed against you and Vice President Diekelman by certain clergy and churches “on behalf of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.” I find this action reprehensible and having a flagrant disregard for Scripture.

Though I am not yet ordained, I am serving as the sole minister over a small congregation in Michigan as a deferred vicar. As such I realize that it is deemed poor form to criticize ordained ministers who have many, many more years of experience in the ministry than I. That being said, however, I found that my heart was breaking as I read the article, the list of men whom I must assume to be Godly leaders of the church where God has placed them, and the text of the lawsuit.

What of our love for Scripture? Does not the Apostle Paul say in 1 Corinthians 6:1 “If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother goes to law against another-- and this in front of unbelievers! 7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?”

What of our love for one another? When our Lord Jesus Christ says in John 13:35, “35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” do we not take that to heart? I weep for the hatred, the bitterness, and the unrighteous anger that has polluted the hearts and clouded the judgment of those church leaders who have resorted to this extremely unfortunate course of action. I weep that we as a church body have for my entire lifetime been consumed by factions and lived in a disregard for the mission of God.

What of our witness to the unchurched population? If we cannot settle these differences amongst ourselves, how is it possible that we will ever be able to seek and save the lost? How will we ever be able to snatch one more soul from the jaws of Satan and an eternity in Hell?

I confess before God and man the sins of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the sins in which I share, and I implore Him to restore His church. Not for our sakes—not for the sake of our history or tradition or love for Synod—but for the sake of those condemned to an eternity in Hell: our next-door neighbors, our brothers and sisters, the waitress at the coffee shop downtown and the clerk at the supermarket. If we, who have the commission to carry the light of Jesus Christ into those darkened lives, as a church body forsake those who need our message of hope and life, then is the grace of God offered in vain? Rather, may Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 be true of us as a synod, as well: “3 We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

President Kieschnick, I pray for your leadership during these turbulent times. I pray that you will be kept close to God as He daily creates in you a clean heart and renews a right spirit within you. I pray that you will win over your enemies through your consistent and humble witness to the love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

Your humble servant and co-worker in the ever-ripening fields,

Vicar Troy Neujahr

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The bitter root . . .

of jealousy and envy is a difficult elixir to swallow. Oddly enough I try to do it anyway.

What is the point behind this? Why would I feel a need to compare myself to others? Do I really need to tear them down in my mind so that their accomplishments can be mediated in my shortsightedness?

This bile, this excrement, this sin must be eliminated. Like a weed, it grows quickly and silently, choking the good vine that must now struggle to grow. Pull it out by the roots, cut it out from my heart, remove it from my eyes.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the
of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit,
to sustain me.


I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.

Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The God You Cannot know

Sermon for the 14th Sunday After Pentecost, 2005. Text: Romans 11:33-36

God is keeping secrets from you. There is a whole side to God that we’ll never know; there are aspects of His personality that we are never going to be able to fathom, to understand.
Now, if this were something like a premarital counseling session and I were to say that a person’s potential mate was keeping secrets from you, then I’d think it would be pretty safe to say that we’d all be concerned. You can’t have a relationship with a fellow human being who is hiding something from you. But we’re not speaking about a relationship with another human being; we’re speaking about a relationship with God. Should it disturb us that there are things we can’t know about God?
This is not a new thought; theologians have been talking about what we call the “hidden God” for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. Even before that, however, the prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 45:15, “Truly, you are a God who hides yourself, O God of Israel, the Savior.”
Have you ever felt as though God was hiding Himself from you? What did you think about that? Did you wonder where God was . . . did you wonder why God was allowing this to happen? And you cried and cried and prayed and prayed but still . . . God hid Himself? This God—the God who hides Himself from you, the God who cannot be understood, the God who does strange things . . . this is the God you cannot know.

The God You Cannot Know
The God you cannot know is mysterious. He is the God the Apostle Paul is speaking about in the epistle lesson from today when he says in Romans 11:33-34, “33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?"” This hidden God, this unknowable God has great power . . . the word awesome is too small of word to properly describe Him. This hidden God’s ways are beyond our ability to follow, to understand. He does things for which we can’t grasp any reason or rhyme.
No matter how hard you look, you will not be able to see the God you cannot know. Moses, the first and greatest leader of God’s people in the Old Testament, the man whom the Bible says talked with God face to face as a man would talk with his friend, even he could not see God’s face! Oh, he asked once . . . in Exodus chapter thirty three Moses said to God, “Now show me your glory.” And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
The God you cannot know is too overwhelming for you to look upon. There is something so majestic about Him that if, in your present state, you were allowed to look fully upon Him, would instantly fry your circuits. You’d drop dead. Part of the reason for that is because of His nature, and part of the reason is because of your nature.
We—you and I—have limitations. I was born on this earth and will live on this earth until one day when I die. My life has a beginning and an end. My physical body occupies one single place in both space and time. For instance, I can’t be in both my office working and at home playing video games at the same time, no matter how hard I try! (I tried to combine the two by playing video games in my office . . . but I realized I couldn’t get much done that way!) I can’t be in two places at once any more than I can be in today and next week at the same time. Like you, I need rest . . . I need food . . . I need chocolate. (and because of the chocolate I need exercise!) That’s just part of being human—we are limited, finite creatures.
But God is no creature, but the creator. In I Timothy chapter one verse seventeen Paul describes God in this word of praise. He says, “17Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Now how is a limited, finite creature such as myself supposed to understand and know a God who is like that? A God upon whom there are no limits of time or space, a God with—try to wrap your mind around this one—a God with no beginning and no end? It just can’t be done!
The God you cannot know has thoughts you’ll never be able to search out. Only the Spirit of God Himself can know the thoughts of God. In 1 Corinthians chapter two Paul tells us, “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” You see, His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are above our thoughts, His wisdom is beyond our own, and His power exceeds all our imagination!
The God you cannot know: you can’t plumb His depths, you can’t measure His height, you can’t gauge His breadth, you cannot even begin to wrap your mind around Him . . . and yet the one thing that we want more than anything when trouble hits, when we are confronted by this horrible, mysterious reality of the God we cannot know, the one thing we want this God to do is explain Himself to us. We want to confront the God we cannot know and hold Him accountable.
Why do we want to delve into the hidden God? Why do we probe into the depths of the God we cannot know? What reason would it serve? What do we expect to gain?
I think I can answer that whole question in one word: comfort. We expect to gain comfort. Think about it; how many times have you been in the midst of a severe crises, you’re in the middle of a terrible trial, your faith is being pushed to the limits, and in desperation you cry out, “Oh, God! If I could only understand why this is happening . . . then I’d be okay. Then I could make it through.”
But that’s the thing about the hidden God . . . He doesn’t answer the question “Why?” In my reading of the Scriptures I can’t recall a single time when it was recorded that the Lord ever answered the question “Why?” The closest thing that I can think of would be in the story of Job. Job cried out to God, wailing over the loss of his family, his home, his wealth . . . wanting the God he could not know to give him the answer to “Why?” God came to him, all right . . . but it wasn’t something that Job enjoyed. Instead of giving Job an answer, God came to him and said, “Stand up like a man! I’ve got some questions for you, and you’re going to answer me!” What followed was probably hours upon hours of God peppering Job with questions for which Job had no answer, questions that clearly demonstrated to Job as well as to you and I who is God . . . and who is not. “Job! Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone-- 7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? 8 "Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, 9 when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, 10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11 when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'? 12 "Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, 13 that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?”
Do you have answers for those questions? Do you have an arm like God's, and can your voice thunder like his? Job 11:7-8 "Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? 8 They are higher than the heavens-- what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave--what can you know?
The God Who Has Made Himself Known
We can’t! We can’t know the hidden God! Pursuing the God we cannot know goes down a path that leads to despair. Following that path could cause us to lose our faith, because we cannot understand. We cannot know the hidden God . . . but we can know a God who reveals Himself to us. The God we cannot know is full of mystery, He is as strange to us as light is to darkness. But what about the God who reveals Himself to us?
Look again at the Gospel lesson. Matthew 16:13-20 13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" 14 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”
We can’t know the hidden God, but in Christ God reveals Himself to us! You see what this means? God knows that we can’t grasp His fullness, that we can’t look upon Him and live, and so He reveals Himself to us in a way that we can understand! We don’t need to probe into the hidden God, we don’t need to know why, we only need to know WHO, and the who we need to know is the revealed God, the God made man Jesus Christ.
Speaking of Jesus Christ, Paul says, in Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God—the hidden God, if you will--, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,”
The very thing that forces God to hide Himself from us—his fullness—that is the same thing that God reveals to us in Jesus Christ! All His fullness, all His power, his eternal, immortal, nature—that’s revealed to us in a way that we can understand in Jesus Christ! The One who laid the earth’s foundation, who marked off its dimensions—we know who He is! The One who stretched a measuring line across the gulf between Heaven and earth, winning your eternal victory while all the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy, He is the revealed God in whom we find the answer to any question that needs asking. It’s the revealed God, the God we can know in Jesus Christ that is the foundation, the cornerstone of our hope! Amen!
We put our hope, our faith, in nothing other than the revealed God—Jesus Christ. Martin Luther put it this way, “You must kill the other thoughts and the ways of reason or of the flesh, for God detests them. The only thing you have to do is to receive the Son, so that Christ is welcome in your heart in His birth, miracles, and cross. For here is the book of life in which you have been written. And this is the only and the most efficacious remedy for that horrible disease because of which human beings in their investigation of God want to proceed in a speculative manner and eventually rush into despair or contempt. If you want to escape despair, hatred, and blasphemy of God, give up your speculation about the hidden God, and cease to strive in vain to see the face of God. Otherwise you will have to remain perpetually in unbelief and damnation, and you will have to perish; for he who doubts does not believe, and he who does not believe is condemned.”

The God Who Knows You
The hidden God is the God we cannot know. The revealed God—Jesus Christ—is the God who makes Himself known to us. But the final factor in all this, in the end, is the God who knows you.
There was once a farmer, and on one strange night an early snowstorm hit. As the icy wind howled against his window and the snow piled up against his door, he happened to glance up from the Bible he was reading and looked outside. He saw a flock of sparrows, trapped in his yard by the freak storm.
With the temperature dropping and the weather getting only worse, the farmer’s heart was filled with compassion for these poor little birds who were certainly going to freeze to death without some form of shelter. So the man donned his hat and coat and headed out into the night.
He opened his barn door, hoping that the sparrows would fly in, but the poor creatures just sat in the snow, shivering. He lit a lantern and placed it inside the barn, hoping the light would draw the birds to its warmth and the safety of the barn . . . but still they sat out in the cold.
By this time he was fairly desperate, and he tried everything in his power to get the hapless creatures inside. But no matter how much he tried to draw them, lure them, or shoo them into the barn, all he accomplished was making them flutter away from him in fright.
Frustrated, the man hung his head in sadness, realizing that he could not save the poor birds. “If only,” he thought as he headed back towards his home, “If only I were a sparrow . . . then I could tell them how to be saved.” And with that thought he stopped dead in his tracks, because at last he realized why God had had to make Himself known in the person of Jesus Christ. He did it all so that He could tell us how to be saved.
Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” There is nothing that you do, nothing you need that escapes God’s attention. He knows we can’t understand the depths of His grace, and that is the very reason why He had to find a way to make Himself known to us. We can’t find peace in probing the depths of the hidden God . . . but in Jesus Christ—the God who made Himself known to us—in Him we find all the answers we need.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

Say now . . . THERE'S an idea!

Had a member from church comment on Joel Osteen's shiny new place down in Houston (the old Compaq Center--seats approximately 2 billion. See above). She said, "If God can bless them like that . . . then why couldn't He bless us like that, too?"

Now there's a big thinker!

Being initialy taken aback, I stammered and stuttered and muttered something like, "errrr . . . that's Houston. We don't have that many people in the whole state."

Now there's a big stinker!

Mental note: Think big and let God's people do the same.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Oh, it's Saturday night . . .

And I'm still working. Enjoyed the day off yesterday, entertained a few friends today, and so now the choices I've made are ones I need to live with. There's still Bible class tomorrow that I'll be teaching, there's still a sermon I'll need to be preaching, there's still life that keeps on going on, week in and week out. God's people need to be fed, need to be led, and I'm the man in the place to do it.

But it's not the work, but the priorties that I'm thinking about. Did I spend my day in the right places, doing the right things? Well, I nurtured a budding relationship. That was pretty good. I established another . . . which was also pretty good. I hung out with the wife a bit, doing this and that. Yep, good. Hmmm . . . not a lot of time with the kids. A little, but not a lot. Could've used some more time there.

But work? Kinda blew it off, huh? But that's alright, at least for today, because today work was family and friends. Today my priorities were them. I've still got time to finish work for tomorrow . . . tonight, as the house sleeps and neither wife nor children need my personal and particular attention. Tonight, when the quiet hours ensure I won't be living with regrets tomorrow, I'll work quickly and silently to finish preparations for tomorrow.

Those are my choices, and I live with them. If I chose otherwise, I don't think I could live with it. Not for long.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Scared stupid

My children have taken a liking to those Ernest movies, you know, the ones featuring the dopey, goofy guy who's oblivious to most everything, but still seems to be the hero in the end.

I think it's odd, but they undoubtedly enjoy them. Right now I can hear them giggling in the living room over Ernest's latest exploits.

Strange that a movie that is mentally painful for me to watch is something they get a kick out of. Then again, I can't stand Pokemon or most other forms of kids' anime, but the kids eat it up.

. . . sigh . . . I guess it means I'm (getting?) old. Knew it would happen some day. I tried to be really immature in order to stay young, but age caught up with me anyway. Next thing you know I'll be driving a Lincoln.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Good Soil? Good Gardener!

Today's sermon for the 8th Day of Pentecost, 2005.

Text: Matthew 13:1-9, The Parable of the Sower

Today’s sermon is based upon the Gospel reading we heard just a few moments ago, where Jesus is telling a crowd of people a story. Now, Matthew the Gospel writer does a good job of setting the stage at the beginning of our reading, so let me do a bit of the same thing for you. The first thing you need to know is something you’ve already gotten from the little heading for this section in your Bible—that this is a parable. Well now, that’s good and fine . . . unless you’re not quite sure what exactly a parable is. And since you’ll need to know that for the sermon today, let me tell you that a parable is a little story-telling device, one that Jesus uses quite often. The story has a plain meaning that’s right up front—and we can see that here, when the seed hits the dirt, it grows!
But the thing that gives the parable its kick isn’t in its plain, up-front meaning. NO, the guts, the mean, the lifeblood of any parable worth its salt is in the hidden meaning—the thing that the teller of the story is really talking about. This parable is no exception, because it’s not just some farmer’s story about the crop he brought in this year. We’re not just talking about seeds and dirt; Jesus has got some important truths He wants to communicate.
The second thing you ought to know about parables is that, in the Bible, they are typically divided into two types, called Kingdom parables and Piety parables. A Piety parable’s basic function is to say to you, “Do what’s right!” It gives us examples—both good and band—for how we as Christians ought to act. It’s all about our works. Now, a Kingdom parable is something different. A Kingdom parable gives us an inside look into how the Kingdom of God works. It tells us things about God and His working that we just wouldn’t know otherwise. Things we couldn’t even guess at. This parable—the parable of the sower—is a Kingdom parable.
Now, why have I just spent all this time telling you this? Because I feel that the truth we’re going to learn today from this parable is so absolutely groundbreaking, so vital . . so very critical to your faith in Jesus Christ to spend a few extra minutes so that everyone in the room is on the same page. Listen! We’re not talking about seeds, and we’re not talking about your works. This is God’s stuff, and He is giving us a chance to listen in on Heaven’s master plan. Got it? Let’s move on.
Verse nine says, “He who has ears, let him hear.” That’s a phrase we hear Jesus use quite frequently when He tells a parable. Basically, what He is saying is that if can understand the parable . . . well, then you can understand the parable. We might say, “If you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand.” It’s a statement that almost instantly makes two groups of people: the insiders and the outsiders. The insiders are those who get it.
But even the insiders don’t quite comprehend it just yet, so Jesus of course has compassion on these poor souls and explains the whole story to them. But not before He says something quite astounding. Even before He gives them the explanation, in verse eleven He reveals to the small group of seekers gathered around Him that they had been given “the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven,” but all that the outsiders got was a parable! One group gets the words of life, and all the other gets is a puzzling riddle!
And strangely enough, that is the exact same teaching He gives in the explanation of the parable! Some get it, others don’t! Listen to His answer in verses 18-22. “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns in the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”
There are a couple of obvious things here. First, since this is a Kingdom parable, then it must be Jesus who is the sower, as He is the central revealed figure in the Kingdom of God. Secondly, the seeds are the Word, which gets sown into our hearts. It gets sown to everyone in all places, and in all times.
And yet there is one thing that is tucked away neatly in this passage that we can’t see right away. But let me ask a few questions to see if we can’t bring it out. The parable is about seeds and different types of soil. Do any of you garden? I know we’ve got a few farmers. How about work in the yard? What happens if you just throw some seeds in the dirt; do you always get what you want? Of course not! You have to spend considerable time and effort working the plot of land so that the seeds can grow to maturity. And that is my point—good soil implies a good gardener. A gardener that has a considerable amount of time picking out the stones and cultivating the land, a gardener that works diligently at keeping the weeds away and the crows at bay.
You understand this? If you are a believer, if you have been saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, it is only because God has spend considerable time working in the soil of your heart. Just as you’ll never see a beautiful garden or a bounteous fields that doesn’t have a hard-working caretaker, you’ll never meet or be a Christian that doesn’t have God working in his or hear heart. God chose you at your baptism . . . or when you heard His Word, or when you receive the Lord’s Supper, and He chooses you over and over again, each and every day, calls you by name and says, “YOU . . . you are mine.”
Isn’t that amazing? God chooses us. And what does He demand from us in return? Does the sower demand anything from the seed? No, he doesn’t, but he does work the soil so it can produce a harvest. In the same way, according the point of this parable, God’s only “demand” of us is to believe with the faith that He has already planted in us. We can only offer what He has already given us. That’s rather astounding, isn’t it? That God would give us everything, that He would spend His very life working the patch of soil that is our hearts, and then expect nothing except the harvest He had worked for? That very truth—that God’s grace cannot and does not demand anything from us—that truth has made more than a few great Christians of the past pause in amazement at the gift that they had been given.
And maybe you’re like that. Maybe you’ve spent some time asking, “Why me?” I don’t mean the pity-party question, either, where we sit around moaning and holding our heads over some difficulty and whining, “Oh, Lord . . . why me?” No. I simply mean the question as it stands. Why me? Have you ever asked yourself that question?
Why me? Why hasn’t Satan come and stolen the Word away from my heart as soon as it’s sown? That could have been me . . . why wasn’t it?
Why me? Why have my roots grown deep enough so that I can weather the tough time? What could havea been me . . . why wasn’t it? Why am I still here, today, in this church?
Why me? I’ve got my own share of worries about my job, my family, my mortgage . . . why haven’t they choked off my faith yet? I’ve it happen to other people, and it could have been me. Why wasn’t it?
Why me? Why you? Why do we get the awesome privilege of bearing the title “Christian” when you only title we’ve ever deserved is “Enemy of God”? Why do we get the glorious gift of Heaven when the only thing we’ve ever deserved is Hell? Why, when . . . let’s be honest, here . . . when every single moment of your life and mine has been lived for Number One, when all we’ve ever done for God is try to push Him into a box and maybe . . . if He’s lucky . . . maybe we’ll let Him out for a bit on Sunday morning or at a meal-time prayer before we shove Him back in His box and out of our sight.
I just don’t get it! We could take the list on and on, rattling off all the reasons we don’t deserve a wooden nickel from God. We’ve taken His gift of life and spat on it, we’ve taken His gift of sex and twisted it into something grotesque, we’ve taken His gift of the church and turned it into some sort of elite country club . . . so why hasn’t God given up on me yet? Why hasn’t God given up on you? Why does He continue to work the soil of our hearts, keeping the weeds away and Satan at bay? Why does He continue to grow our faith? Why does He continue to love us?
I used to think I had about a million answers to that question . . . but more and more I feel that I’ve got only one. That answer comes from a very personal, very emotional story, and I’d like to share it with you now in the hope that you may understand why God loves you.
It’s now been about 5 years ago. Stephanie and I were looking forward to heading to seminary. I was working full-time as a copier technician and taking full-time classes to finish up my Bachelor’s degree. We were happy! Then one Sunday, as we were getting ready for church, Stephanie has this splitting, tearing pain that shot from her upper leg up through her body. She was cold, clammy, and pale, and it was all she could do to just lie in bed. I’ve never seen her like that before.
A few days came and went and she wasn’t much better, so we decided she had better see a doctor. It turns out she was pregnant. Now, you’d think that would be a good thing . . . I hope it’s obvious to everyone how much we love children . . . but the baby wasn’t lodged safe and sound in her womb where he should have been, but in her fallopian tube, what they call an ectopic pregnancy. There was no hope for the baby. He would continue to grow until the point at which the tube would rupture, and then he would die. And if we allowed that to happen, there stood a good chance that Stephanie might have died, too.
Now, understand this point—in just a few hours we had gone from not even knowing we were pregnant to facing the certain death of our very own child. And we cried . . . and we prayed . . . and I took my wife to the hospital for the operation that would save her life but would end the life of my child.
But in those few hours I would have given everything for just a chance for my child to live, for even just one chance to hold him . . . for a chance for his daddy to hold him and protect him and let him know everything would be all right. Even if it had cost me my own life, I would have given it. I would have offered my life in exchange for this little person—no bigger than the nail of my pinky finger—this person I had never spoken to, had never touched, had never met, but was still mine. Though he couldn’t have possibly have had anything to offer me, though he couldn’t do anything for me, I loved him just because he was mine.
And in the days and weeks that came afterwards, God began to teach me something that I hadn’t been expecting. As I prayed and as I thought about the whole event, God began to teach me why. He began to teach me the answer to the question, “Why me, Lord? Why do you do these things for me?” And it was though as God said to me, “You know the way you felt about the baby? That you loved him for no reason, that you loved him just because he was yours? That’s just the way I feel about you! Everything I’ve done for you—planting the seed of faith in your heart, working in your life, sending my Son to die for you . . . I did it all just because I love you, just because you are mine.”
I’ve never forgotten that, and I pray that I never will. God loves me with a wild, reckless, giving-it-all-away kind of love . . . and He loves me just because I am His.

And if you’re here today, hearing His Word being proclaimed to you, I am here to tell you that God loves you in the exact same way. You didn’t earn it, and you can’t make Him stop, no matter what you might do. And when you sin, when you turn your back on God, He’s right there to take you into His arms. He’s the Eternal Daddy holding you . . . and protecting you . . . and telling you everything will be all right.
You might question that. But I’m standing here today and looking you dead in the eye and telling you that God loves you. I know it because He did what I couldn’t do. I didn’t have the power to offer my life in exchange for the life of my son . . . but God did.
Christ offered His life as a ransom for yours when He was put on trial for the sins He never committed---yours. When the flogged His back to shreds He gave those wounds for your healing. When they lifted Him upon the cross, naked and bleeding, He endured your shame so that you be wrapped up in His protection. And when the Father turned His back on Him, Christ endured the rejection of Hell so that you could freely enter into the acceptance of Heaven. He died so that we might life, and He lives so that we may no longer die!
And why? Just because you are His. I remain convinced that, even in Heaven, if we asked, that that would still be the answer. No other reason; just because. Christ gives everything to you with no demands, no regrets. His great, mighty, wild, and reckless love for you, which will endure forever, causes Him to do it.
He who has ears to hear, let Him hear. Amen.

Back up and BLOGGING!!!

Hey howdy hey, partner!

Good to virtually see you again! Revneujahr has been inactive for a while now, due to moving and getting settling in. But we're back up and blogging again, and happy to do so! So get in the habit of checking in frequently again, there will be stuff to see once more!

Friday, May 27, 2005

Been a long time . . .

Oh, yeah, has it!

Quick rundown of what I've done since my last blog:

Attended a good-bye party for me and the wife and children.

Traveled half way across the country with wife and children in tow.


Received the Master of Divinity degree.

Lived (with wife and children) at a good friend's house for about 5 days.

Visited numerous old friends.

Traveled the return trip half way across the country again with wife and children in tow.

Gotten sick.

Gotten crabby.

Packed stuff up.

Cursed and swore at my laptop as I tried to reformat and reload the hard drive.

Logged onto Blogger . . . and now you know the rest.

So, life's taking the standard "warp factor ten" approach as big changes come near. Rather than slowing down so we can enjoy our last few days on the Shore, it's hitting a near-frenetic pace, a jumbled whirlwind of images and words.

Conversely, it's becoming more and more apparent that I need to take the time to slow down and rest . . . at least inwardly and spiritually. Why is it that the times when that is most needed it is also the most impossible?

. . . or perhaps it's just that those times are the clarion call for a regular Sabbath . . . the impossible to deny claim that a relationship with God takes time, too.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Pentecost Difference

Today marks the Festival of Pentecost, that day when, as He had promised, God sent His Holy Spirit upon the believers to give them power, to give them comfort . . . to make them into His witnesses in Jerusalem, in Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth. On that day the world entered into a new age, the Apostolic Age when all believers would become God’s priests to the world. On that day the old order of things passed away, the Church was born, and the Last Days began. It was a day of closure, and it was a day of newness.
It is thus fitting that this day also marks my final day of service to you and to God at Bethany Lutheran. My time here is at an end, and God beckons for me and my family to depart from this place and begin service elsewhere.

What is the Pentecost difference? What do we see happening there? Throughout Jesus’ life, we see the disciples of Jesus hearing His teaching . . . but they generally misunderstand what He is saying. After His death, we see the disciples huddled together, doors locked, hiding out for fear of the Jews. After Jesus appears to them, we see the disciples restored, and they understand Jesus better than they ever did before. After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, we see the disciples again gathered together, but this time they are waiting, not hiding, and we may notice that Peter is bold enough to stand up and speak to the believers.
But after Pentecost, what happens then? Verse fourteen tells us that Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and addressed the crowds. There is no more misunderstanding, no more fear, no more cautious waiting, only a bold sermon on the saving Gospel of Jesus Chris. And what a sermon it was! It was such a sermon that, when it was over, Doctor Luke records that over three thousand came to the faith and were baptized! What’s the difference? What did it take to change this group of . . . well, this group of doofuses into world-class evangelists?
When Peter boldly addressed the crowds, he quotes God’s words recorded in the book of Joel and says, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29 Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”
The Pentecost difference, the difference between the disciples before Pentecost and after, the difference between a pathetic doofus and a preacher’s delight . . . the difference is the empowering of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit—the one person of the Trinity that we as Lutherans don’t talk about much. But He plays a vital role in our Christian lives. Luther, in his Small Catechism, summarizes the work of the Holy Spirit in the words of the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
6 What does this mean? (Confirmands . . . ?)
Answer: I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. This is most certainly true.”
Did you catch that? “By my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, or come to him . . . But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel.” Without the work of the Holy Spirit neither you nor I would even be able to believe in Jesus Christ. Without the Spirit, there is no faith. That’s just as astounding as it is obvious. But the question remains . . . what kind of Pentecost difference does that make in our lives? Does the Spirit give us faith and then let us figure out the rest on our own, or does He enable us to do more?
The Holy Spirit calls . . . but He also sends. In other words, the Holy Spirit gives us salvation, but he also gives us vocation. The prophet Isaiah says in chapter sixty-one of his book that he is anointed by the Holy Spirit to speak, to proclaim, to do. So, does the Spirit give us faith and then let us figure out the rest on our own? No! The Holy Spirit empowers us to go the distance, to live out each and every single day of our lives as people who live firmly grounded in the grace of Jesus Christ.
Let me ask you a question: Remember that in verse fourteen all Twelve disciples stood up with Peter. The Holy Spirit gave them the strength to take a stand for Jesus Christ. What do you suppose happened to them later in life? After the Holy Spirit came upon them, after He not only put a flame on their heads but also lit a fire under their rears . . . what did they spend the rest of their lives doing? Did they sit back, take it easy, come to church once a week? Did they take a bold stand just that once, and then when they got back to work on Monday morning, and a co-worker told an off-color joke, or someone cut them off on the way to the temple, or they bumped into a friend shopping for kosher meat at the market, and that friend was hurting bad inside . . . did they shrink back? Did they shut down and shut up? Did they spend the rest of their lives in regret, wishing they could have said something to offer hope to a hurting friend, to bring the light of Christ into a dark world?
. . . Did they spend the rest of their lives wishing for another taste of that Pentecost difference?
. . . Do you?

Do you long for something that will finally make a real difference in your life?

I won’t tell you yet how the disciples spent their lives, but I will tell you how they ended them. Here is the list according to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs:
Andrew: crucified
Bartholomew: beaten then crucified
James son of Alphaeus—stoned
James son of Zebedee—beheaded
John—exiled to Patmos, died of old age
Judas (not Iscariot): stoned
Matthew: speared to death in Ethiopia
Peter: crucified upside down
Thomas: speared to death in India
Matthias: stoned
Philip: crucified
Simon: crucified
If this is the end of their lives; all but one martyred for the cause of Christ . . . you tell me: Did they spend the rest of their lives wishing for another taste of that Pentecost difference . . . or did they live in it?
You know the answer. Through the power of the Holy Spirit the disciples lived out their lives in Christ. They had heard His words, they had seen His deeds, and they believed above all else that Jesus Christ was their Savior. The Holy Spirit called them to be with God and then sent them out so that the world might be told of the precious hope they had been given in Christ Jesus. Despite all odds, they turned the world upside down, because they understood the Pentecost difference.
So what’s the Pentecost difference for us? Is it the death of Jesus Christ inspiring us? Yes! Through the Holy Spirit we understood the significance of His death. Is it His resurrection? His ascension? Again, YES! We’ve read about that with our own eyes, but it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the spiritual eyes we need to truly see it! Are we responding to the fact that our sins are now and always will be forgiven in Jesus Christ? YES YES YES!!! Because the Holy Spirit applies that forgiveness that was won on the cross, He gives us the faith to grasp hold of God’s promises given through Jesus Christ, and when Christ calls us to Himself, we answer His call from the deepest part of our hearts, because it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the strength to say “Yes” to Christ.
That’s the Pentecost difference—the knowledge of both our salvation and our vocation, of knowing both who we are and Whose we are, of knowing that we are both called to God and sent out into the world . . . that’s the difference that will continue to get us up, to move us out, to propel us forward in the face of and in spite of all odds.

I want you to know something: I spent all this past week writing myself into this sermon. It was going to be part sermon, part farewell speech. All week I spent on that.
And then I spent all day yesterday writing myself out of it. Why? Because it's not my job to have you look at me, but my job to make you see Jesus. It's my task to be invisible, to allow the Holy Spirit to work through me and show you to Jesus.
Yet I did want you to leave you a word from me. And so I found these words from the Apostle Paul. Paul, even though he was not there on the day of Pentecost, probably understood the Pentecost difference better than anyone else. And so I leave with you--I give to you the words of the Apostle Paul as recorded in his letter to Timothy:

2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound1 teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 9 Do your best to come to me soon.

This is my charge to you: Live out your Pentecost difference.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Emperor Has No Clothes . . .

and the Tin Man has a heart, after all.

It's a good thing to realize that there is an "other side" after all. That troubles are temporary, that the light at the end of a tunnel is NOT a locomotive and that I'm not Wile E. Coyote.

It's a good thing to wake up from a nap and realize that, through it all, God has sustained you, as He had promised.

It's a good thing to be prepared to take yet another long, hopeful look deep, deep inside . . . and realize almost immediately that your heart is still there, still beating, still feeling, still living.

It's a good thing to feel like a man again, and not just a prettily decorated bauble, fragile and empty.

It's a good thing to realize the prince of this world has no enduring power.

It's a good thing to realize that the emperor has no clothes . . . and the tin man does indeed have a heart, after all.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Right now, even as we speak, I'm sitting on my bed, watching a slightly strange movie, and looking at one of my cats. It's the cat that has my attention.

Sasha is a rescue-shelter cat who's blind in one eye. I call her "Spook" because when we got her from the shelter she had a habit of running and hiding any time anyone in the family came near her. She warmed up to us after about four months, and even slept most nights at the foot of our bed. And then we started to pack.

The house is full of boxes, and also full of pre-move tension. Lots of stuff to accomplish in a very little time, and very little resolution is forthcoming. And there lies (lies? lay? lays? What is it?) the cat. Flat on her back, little kitty legs sprawled all around, little kitty snores coming from her mouth.

What's the deal with the cat? How does a cat that deserves the name "Spook" by day, who will never let me get near her, who won't be seen between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. . . . how does that cat get so relaxed now??

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Does it hurt?

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit. "Sometimes." said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

Suddenly . . . I mind being hurt. I mind very much.

Then again . . . I don't feel particularly Real at this moment, either.

Lord, make me more than a velveteen rabbit. Make me Real. Whatever the cost.

Give me a beating heart. Give me deep breaths in my lungs. Give me a clear mind. Restore unto me the joy of my salvation.

Lord, make me more than a velveteen rabbit. Make me Real. Whatever the cost.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Life change and changing lives

One of my preaching mantras is that, when I preach, I always want to preach for life change. I want to do my best to ensure that God's people have something in their heads when they leave that will eventually work its way out to their hands. Even if its something just as simple (simple???) as resting more securely in God, I want them to have it. Exegetical sermons, doctrinal sermons, textual sermons . . . they can all give great knowledge--which IS important--but they also have to make a difference in the lives of God's people. Knowledge, by itself, is not enough. There must also be faith, and faith is a living, active thing.

So should I be surprised when God expects more of me? If I want to be His instrument to change people's lives, should I not also expect Him to stretch me, to mold me, to challenge me? Why then do I resist His shaping hand?

It so often feels as though He is using a hammer and chisel to shape me. I'd prefer to be molded like soft clay. Perhaps . . . just perhaps . . . life change is hard because I'm hard. You can't mold solid rock with your bare hands, and God isn't the type to use the wrong tool for the job.

If I want to be used to make an impact, I need to be prepared for God to shape me first. It's as simple as that. Doesn't mean I have to like it or particularly enjoy it . . . but I want it all the same. I suppose the opposite--that God will let me be if I don't want to do anything particularly meaningful--is also true. But while that may mean more comfort for the moment, it would also mean dying the thousand deaths of the coward . . . too afraid to be anything other than small . . . too afraid to trust radically in God.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Two sides of the same (blasted) coin . . .

On the one hand, do they realize that they're not telling the whole truth? They'll tell you that pastoral ministry is all about preaching the word, offering the comfort of the Gospel . . . but they won't tell you about the people who want results, not comfort. They won't tell you what to do when people don't think that being a simple preacher is enough. Here we are, giving this new crop of green-horn pastors the official "Go out and change the world for Jesus!" speech, and we're not telling them they've only been equipped for less than half of their job. Someone's got to tell these new guys that people can be hard to deal with at times, that there are times when there aren't any win-win solutions, that--for crying out lout--that they are gonna get hurt. Hurt bad, some of 'em. "Pastoral ministry is all about preaching the Word and offering the comfort of the Gospel," indeed.

But yet, on the other hand . . .
What they don't tell you is that the Gospel works wonders even on yourself. That it is a live, active thing, and it spreads through ever fiber of a person's being. The hurting are healed, the ones who cry out have their tears dabbed away . . . hearts are made new again . . . lives are restored . . . things are set right in a deep, deep manner that can't always been seen, but it can always be felt. All this from the Gospel, and all this despite the best (worst?) efforts of those sinners known as the pastor and the people. "Pastoral ministry is all about preaching the Word and offering the comfort of the Gospel" . . . Indeed!!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Dude, it's a Dell!

Odd that I'm a full-grown adult male, wife and children, and I still have an unnatural desire for toys.

I am right at this moment quite literally sitting at my desk, staring out of the window, and waiting for the UPS guy to show with my new Axim PDA from Dell. It should have been here yesterday, because that's when all my wife's stuff showed up. She got a new computer, because the old one was about as mesozoic as a computer can be. But did my stuff show? No. Had to call UPS and Dell and talk to at least 4 different people. But now that the handy UPS tracking website says it's actually on the truck and scheduled for today's delivery, I sit and wait, a child trying to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus.

. . . wonder if the UPS guy ever gets cookies and milk?

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The doctrine of vocation

As I've been doing recently, the rather long post that follows is my sermon from today, April 24th. Read on to hear about the Lutheran doctrine of vocation.

In today’s sermon I want to depart from tradition just a little bit. Typically in the Lutheran church we’d hear a sermon based upon one of the three lectionary readings for the day, a sermon that would tie in with the appropriate season of the church year. But in our church service today we have an illustration that is too good to pass up. So, instead of preaching on a specific text, I’d like to take the opportunity to speak on a specific doctrine. I’d like to speak today about the doctrine of vocation.
The catalyst for why I’m thinking about vocation today sits before you. Today in church, our fine organist Ron Linkswiler is embellishing the worship service with three Organ Exaltations. With his abilities as a musician and his position as the church’s organist, Ron is offering us something special. Not for himself or his ego, and not because we all are so deserving of it, but because it is one way in which Ron can serve us through his God-given vocation as a church musician. What I’d like for you to do today is consider how you can serve your neighbor through your vocation.
“Vocation” . . . that’s a word we need to stop and define. Typically in our culture today, when someone wants to know what your vocation is, they want to know what it is you do for a living. We have vocational-technical schools that teach a trade or a skill, and we think of that sort of thing as a vocation. But that’s not the way I mean it now. The theological sense of the word “vocation” is really very broad. “Vocation” embodies not only what you do for a living, but touches all the facets of your life.
Each of us is unique. Our lives have very different situations. None of us have identical vocations. For example: In my lifetime I’ve been an “employee.” God placed me into a company where it was my responsibility to provide technical support for my fellow employees. If I didn’t do my humble work of support, they couldn’t do their work, either. My vocation as “employee” demanded that I serve not only my employer but also my fellow employees by providing the best support I could.
But I am also father to Kaleigh, Zachary, Nicholas, Luke, Shawnae, Caleb, and Gabriel (did I get all them?). None of you can claim that responsibility—it is mine to bear. God has placed me in the vocation of “father” to these children, and that vocation demands that I serve them by sheltering them, clothing them, feeding them, and raising them in a Christian home.
But I am more than just “father,” I am also—today, at least—preacher. God has placed me in this pulpit, and for today at least the responsibility of preaching is mine to bear. God has placed me in the vocation of “preacher”, and that vocation demands that I serve you by proclaiming God’s message to you.
Three different roles in my life . . . three different vocations. They are unique and specific to my life, and in each of them I have a responsibility to serve those whom God has placed around me.
The first key to understanding vocation is understanding the unique places where God has put you, so let’s just work that out for a minute. Let’s start with the easy stuff—What do you do for a living? Are you the top dog? Are you the low man on the totem pole? Are you somewhere in between?
--Is there any way in which you have been given the official capacity to serve someone?
--Are you a mother or a father? Are you somebody’s child?
--Are you a Sunday School teacher?
--Are you a Bible study leader?
--Are you somebody’s friend?

Take all those and kind of add them up . . . you’ll see that God has placed you in not just one but several circles of influence. Places where you have responsibility to others . . . but more than that, places where you can be of specific service to others. That’s of what vocation is: places where God has put you so that you can be of service to others.
So, the first key to understanding vocation is understanding the unique places where God has put you. The second key is understanding what it is to serve.
We can understand true service by thinking of an experience that is common to all of us: eating in a restaurant. Think of two people: the best waiter or waitress you’ve ever had . . . and the worst. What’s the difference between the two?

I think the difference between the two is that the one made it obvious to you that he or she wanted you to have the best experience possible at that restaurant. That waiter, that waitress, they went above and beyond to ensure that you were served well. They give you the impression that they would want that even if they weren’t working there for a living. A bad waiter just makes it obvious that he’s there to collect a paycheck, and that you are nothing more than a means (or maybe even an obstacle) to that end.
When we serve in our vocation, it is the same thing. Our service is to be always directed completely and totally towards the one we are serving. You understand? When you are in service to your neighbor, it is wrong to keep casting one eye back over your shoulder and say, “Are you watching now God, did I do a good thing God, huh? Huh? Huh?” NO!! We don’t serve our neighbor in order to curry favor with God, but because our neighbor needs our service! We don’t serve our neighbors so that we can offer them as some sort of good work to God, but we serve our neighbors so that we can become God’s work to them.
Who gets the credit—the hammer or the carpenter? In the same way, our God-given vocation isn’t done to bring accolades upon ourselves, but it is done in order that God may work in another’s life. We are simply the tool.
I’ve mentioned two parts of vocation: knowing the unique places where God has put you and understanding what it is to serve. Those can be difficult to understand at times, but the third part of vocation is easy. The third part of vocation is why.
Why serve others? Because God first used others to serve you. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you are in this church today it is because God made you someone else’s vocation. God used someone in your life—a father, a friend, a relative—God used someone in your life to serve your needs. Maybe those needs were physical, maybe they were spiritual, maybe financial, maybe relational . . . but God used someone to serve those needs. God used those people to serve you.
That’s what God Himself does, you know? God—the almighty, all-powerful God over all—God serves you. Before you could even ask for help, God was on the case . . . serving you by sending His Son . . . dying your death . . . forgiving your sin. Nothing else mattered to God except for your desperate need for life with Him. In Jesus Christ, God made you His vocation.
Think about that for a minute . . . in Jesus Christ, God made you His vocation. You were so special to God that He offered His services to you, knowing full well how great the cost would be to Himself. And yet He served you in a way that was specific to your needs . . . giving His only Son so that you, and your family, and your friends could have everlasting life with Him. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? That in Jesus Christ God would become our Servant.

. . . and there you have the written portion of the sermon. I finished by tying it all together--the three parts of vocation being 1) knowing where God has placed you, 2) understanding what it means to serve, and 3)the reason why we serve . . . because God first served us.

Saturday, April 23, 2005


My recent decision that I was facing--the one where the seminary said I could either take another internship or sit and wait while they decided what to do with me--that caused me a lot of internal strife. I just KNEW I should stand and fight, because that's what a brave, risk-taking man would do. Taking the internship seemed like backing down to me, it seemed like shrinking back from a fight. It seemed like the coward's way out.

Now, I'm still fighting with myself a bit on this, but I realized that I wasn't afraid of fighting--I'll go to the mat if I need to--but I was afraid of . . . being afraid. I felt that if I chose the internship (which is really the wisest and wiliest option, all things considered), I would do so because I was afraid to fight. I felt that I would get stuck in a routine of fear, of always playing it safe, of ceasing to live for fear of taking risks. You understand? My biggest fear was that I was fearful.

Some really wise man (I honestly can't remember who--isn't that awful?) once said "All we have to fear is fear itself." I think at the time he was intending to provoke courage into action. But I also realized that it sometimes takes a brave man to make a seemingly "safe" choice. Sometimes it takes real guts to say, "I could fight . . . but I'd be losing much more than I'd gain."

I could fight for my ordination, and I believe I'd have a right to do so. But in the process I could lose a lot of things. Taking the internship--though it seems to be the "safe" way out--means that I still get to minister, than I get a paycheck which provides for the family, and I am still on track for ordination. Those sound like FAR better options than scrapping it out just because I'm afraid of myself thinking I'm a coward.

So, the moral of this story? Courage comes in unexpected places . . . and sometimes takes unexpected shapes.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Problem of Pain

Stumbled across a brother pastor's blog today. He had mused upon why pastors quit a few days ago, and his blog and his thoughts are quite striking. Go give it a read.

Why do pastors quit? Because they are tired of trying to be invisible. The pastor's job is to be invisible, to have people see Jesus instead of him. It's to point people to the One who can truly save them . . . and yet people often spend all their time looking to their pastor, to force him into the open, to make the Invisible Man someone to be clearly seen . . . to look to him instead of to Him. Let me say it clearly: YOUR PASTOR IS NOT JESUS!

I want nothing more than my people to know Jesus. To love Jesus. To trust Jesus. To recognize their need for Jesus. But what gets in the way is when they fail to recognize that I need Him too. Yes, I, I myself, I NEED JESUS. I fail. I sin. I make a mess out of things. I need to apologize. If you want to get real earthy for a minute, then understand that the bathroom stinks when I leave, same as it does for you. For the love of God, please do not make the mistake of looking to me for your salvation!

Chief of sinners though I be,
Jesus gave His life for me.

That doesn't change because I'm the guy preaching. Yes, I'm there for you. I want to minister to you. I'll do my best to point you in the way in which God would have you walk. I'll even be God's voicebox, His mouth, and His hands for you--I'll let Him act through me. But I can't be God, and in fact I'd kill you if I tried to be. I'd kill you because I would be offering a fake god, a false gospel . . . a gospel something entirely other than the true Gospel you are offered only in Jesus Christ. By trusting in my false gospel, you'd die. And I'd be guilty.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Not too surprisingly, at times I felt helpless . . .

That's what a friend of mine told me today. I had thanked him for listening to my tales of woe and for his wise advice, and he replied that while he was happy to listen, he had wanted to do something, that he had felt helpless.

Inaction can be frustrating. Standing by and watching a friend's life turn inside-out is something akin to witnessing an auto accident from the street corner. You sense the impending danger and from that moment on the drama unfolds in excruciating slow motion, a hideously realistic movie playing out in front of your disbelieving eyes. You are locked into the role of an enmeshed observer . . . participation is both thrust upon you and denied you at the same time. Frozen in place, your brain overloads in sensory trauma, and all the world fades away except for the tragedy that will forever be etched in your memory. The inability to act denies us the mental defense to later say "Well . . . at least I did the best I could." The inability to act, to engage, to do robs us of the last vestiges of our deluded thoughts that we can, after all, control our lives.

But . . . is that really what happened? In those few moments his friendship allowed me what I so desperately needed: To expose myself to emotional risk without fear of emotional damage. He allowed me to be myself, to feel and not to hide. With my friend, I could be afraid . . . and it was okay. With my friend, I could be frustrated . . . and that was alright, too. With my friend, I could also be confident . . . and he didn't have to ask which emotion I was truly feeling, because we understood it was all of them at once. With my friend I could at long last take my heart from its secure iron lockbox, place it on my sleeve, let it all hang out, and get some precious relief from the awful burden of feeling constantly on guard.

Did my friend do something for me? He most certainly did. He felt helpless, but the reality unseen is that in those few moments he became God's divinely chosen instrument of comfort and wisdom in my life. Do something? More than be a friend? More than give his ear? More than spend his time? Could anyone--truly--could anyone do more than that?

Not hardly, my friend. Not hardly. What he perceived as frustrating inaction I gladly accept as treasure, more valuable than silver, more precious than gold.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

You are a sheep . . .

What follows is my sermon from today, April 17. It's a longish post for me, so read on at your own peril. ;-)

You are a sheep.

Just close your eyes for a few moments, and imagine that you are a sheep. Well, a flock of sheep I guess would be more accurate. That’s not too hard, is it? After all, today is Good Shepherd Sunday, and the Bible is filled with images comparing God’s people to sheep.
So, you all are sheep. Now, what are your sheep-y needs? You need sheep food. You need sheep shelter. You need sheep protection . . . and you need sheep guidance. Where are you going to get that? From the other sheep? Is there a head sheep we can look to, some sort of super-sheep that will look out for us?
I don’t think so. The other sheep are just pretty much the same. Sheep, as a rule, are not particularly bright, and a flock of sheep all put together is a bit dimmer yet. So what we need is a shepherd.
So, now imagine a shepherd—he can be anything you want him to be, tall, short, thin . . . whatever. The important thing is that he’s a shepherd, that he’s watching out for us sheep.
Since he’s watching out for us, he’s going to make sure he leads us where we need to be in order to get the things that satisfy our sheep needs. Now, I suppose that this shepherd could just herd us all together into a pen, but I think that our imaginary shepherd wants better for us. So he calls us out of the pen and we follow after him. And he leads us up, up, up. Up to a fine, soft meadow where we can stop and rest. A little spring is bubbling up nearby so we can get a cool, refreshing drink. NOT a rushing river—it would be too easy for one of us to get swept downstream—but a nice spring of quiet water. It is a refreshing place to be in.
And our shepherd, he takes us from place to place just like this. We follow him day by day as he leads us from one good place to another. The paths he chooses are firm and sure, and he moves with a quiet confidence of one who knows the mountains well.
Well now, that sounds rather nice, doesn’t it? Kinda makes me want to be a sheep. To have a nice, quiet, ideal life filled with pleasant things, good food, and nice, sheepy friends. Could anyone argue with that? If we could just stay on the mountain top forever, we’d live out a good life. If we could stay on the mountain top . . .
But . . . I didn’t say we were staying on the mountain top, did I? No, what I said was that our shepherd leads us from one good place to another. And I don’t know a lot about sheep, but I do know that once a flock of sheep gets to a nice, lush pasture that that pasture isn’t going to be good for very long. The shepherd knows that we can’t stay on the mountain top forever, so he leads us from one good place to another. And to get to the next good place, our faithful shepherd is going to have to lead us through the valley.
It’s rough in the valley, sometimes, did you know that? On the mountain top we had great food, fresh water, open country, and an abundance of light. But in the valley . . . who knows what could happen? The valley is in the shadow of the mountain. And it can be a deep, dark shadow. A shadow so thick that it feels like it’s taken a life of its own . . . no, that’s not right, because it doesn’t feel like life at all. The mountain top—that feels like life. But the valley—that shadow grips our hearts like death itself. And our shepherd is leading us down into it.
Let’s not be coy about this, now—the valley is a dangerous place. It’s full of things that like nothing more than a few sheep for breakfast. And the darkness is so thick that we won’t even be able to see the dangers very well. Down there in the valley we’ll find the sure, firm paths the shepherd is choosing are harder to see, and if we’re not careful we could lose our way. If we’re not careful we could get separated from our shepherd. Down there in the valley we’ll find wolves in sheep’s clothing—wolves just trying to mix in with the flock until they can pick one of us off. Oh, they’ll look nice enough . . . until you get up close. Down there in the valley we’ll find thieves and robbers—sheep hustlers, if you will—and they’re going to want to steal us away from our shepherd, to take us to their pen, and we’d never see the mountain top again. Down there in the valley is not a place for sheep to be alone. It’s just not safe.
But down there in the valley is where our shepherd leads us. Should we be afraid?
Our shepherd is a good shepherd. He’s taking us from one good place to another, and the valley is on the path between the two. Yes, the valley is dark. Yes, the valley is scary. No, I can’t tell you how long of a journey the valley is . . . but I can tell you that our shepherd is with you in that dark, dark valley.
The valley is full of real dangers, but our shepherd is prepared to deal with them. One, he’s got a weapon. Now, this isn’t quite right [a baseball bat], but you get the picture. Our shepherd carries a rod with him. His is probably something like this . . . but his is coated with iron. And anything that is going to go after you is going to have to get by him first. Those wolves? WHACK! Sends them off scampering and whining. Thieves and robbers? WHACK! Leaves them looking like they got beat with the ugly stick . . . which they just have. Anything that comes out of the dark, anything that is going to threaten the well-being of us as his sheep—our shepherd is right there to deal with it. In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, he speaks softly, but he carries a big stick.
But the rod isn’t for us. Sheep don’t get clubbed when they get out of line. Our shepherd also carries his shepherd’s staff. A long, graceful staff with a curve at the end. The rod is for beating off attackers, but the staff is for guiding us sheep back onto the straight and narrow path. The staff keeps us grouped together. Yes, I suppose that some sheep might get a small whack with the staff now and then, but it’s to keep us all in line. The rod defends us sheep against attackers, but the staff guides us in the shepherd’s way.
And as we travel through the valley of darkness, our shepherd uses both of them for our benefit. We’ve left one mountain top, and we’re heading to another. But to get there, we’ve got to pass through the valley, and if we’re sheep—which we still are—knowing that our shepherd has both a rod and a staff is a comfort to us.

But what if you weren’t a sheep?
What if you were just another person living in a messed-up world, just doing your best to get by? What if you had nothing but a dream that maybe, someday, somehow, you could be a sheep, that a shepherd would appear and pull you out of the valley and bring you to a place of green pastures and quiet waters? What if your life was stuck in the valley, and you weren’t sure if you could ever get out on your own?
Our shepherd is a good shepherd. He’s taking us from one good place to another, and I want you to remember the valley is on the path between the two. Yes, the valley is dark. Yes, the valley is scary. No, I can’t tell you how long of a journey the valley is . . . but I can tell you that our shepherd is with you in that dark, dark valley. I know it because I’ve seen it. I know it because I’ve lived it. And more than that—I know it because God promises me in His word that it’s so. You have God’s promise that no matter how dark the valley is, that no matter how dangerous the path has become, that no matter how afraid you are of what is up ahead, God has already been there, and He is protecting you and He is watching out for you and He is leading you on a path that will take you to from good to good, and there is no way the valley is going to stop Him from getting you to where He wants you to be!
Jesus Christ knows about pain, and He knows about danger, and He knows what it feels like to be dragged through Hell and back . . . because He did it all. He did it all on that cross. He didn’t come down off that cross on His own . . . they took Him down because He was dead. He was dead—rejected by God and condemned for sins He never committed—ours. He laid His life down for you, and for me. He laid His life down for His sheep. But He took His life back up again in victory and in power, and it is through His life that we will have life with Him forever. He is your shepherd.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

When life hands you lemons . . .

I always hated that happy, sappy saying. I imagined some perpetually chipper cheerleader type with a permanently fixed smile peppily saying, "When life hands you lemons . . . make lemonade!

Yep, I always hated that. Until I realized just the other day how you make lemonade. You know how you make lemonade? You take those silly little citrus fruits and squeeeeeeeeze the life out of them, crushing the hapless fruit in your bare hands until every bit of it's precious juice has been drained out, the pulp sacs burst and empty. You wring that dumb little yellow thing until you can't get any more out of it and then you discard it's lifeless, worthless shell, tossing it carelessly aside because it is no more use to you whatsoever.

. . . I feel quite a bit better about that saying now.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Reality unseen

Could you pray for me?
He said as he walked into the office.
I need a friend . . . I feel so lost and alone. I'm unsure and afraid.
Could you pray for me?

Could you stand by me?
He said as he walked through the door.
I need a companion. I've lost my way and my feet are slipping.
Could you stand by me?

Could you talk with me?
He said as he came into the room.
I need someone to understand me, to hear my side of the story.
Could you talk with me?

And yet once again I stretched out My hands,
I stepped into his shoes,
and through his ears I heard.
Yet once again I used this humble pastor as My instrument to comfort a man's troubled soul.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Ramble alert!

Did you ever think about a God who makes water? I mean, there it is, the most basic and universal liquid known to man. Colorless, tasteless, odorless . . . and yet somehow the most satisfying, the most thirst-quenching sip of something icy and cold that you could ever manage to get your lips on.

But if that weren't enough, this tasteless liquid becomes the basis for a seemingly endless parade of permutations. We add a bit of this or that to common and universal H2O and we get Coke, beer, tea, coffee, Kool-Aid, grape nehigh, Gatorade, fruit juice (from concentrate), and so on. An endless list of liquids that are as diverse in taste and appearance as they are in purpose. Heated water cooks my food and creates a delicious broth in the process. Frozen water chills my drinks and allows me to freeze a sweetened dairy liquid into ice cream. Hot water from an elevated tap makes a relaxing and cleansing shower, or, if you combine that with an *ahem* intimately connected married couple it can make for a rather intense water-based experience. When combined with the Word, that same plain rain can cleanse sin--filled stains. In Spain. On the plain.

It's just . . . oh, I don't know . . . odd, I guess. God gives us something basic, something simple like water, and allows us to use it in every single facet of our lives. To me, it seems at once profound and commonplace at the same time.

. . . huh . . . that's kinda like life, isn't it?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

On Being and Growing

These past few days have been a time of intense self-evaluation, but they have also been a time of re-connecting with my friends here at the seminary. I realize now that through the process of my personal emotional pain and situation, God has been able to bless others through my words, my experience, and my presence. I have been given much to consider and many tools to make me an even more effective pastor and leader, and I have been reminded--both on this Forum and here in person at the seminary--that I have many, many good and faithful friends.

I am growing . . . probably much more so than I would have known was possible. I have retained my integrity and yet been receptive to change for the better. I am weary and more than ready to be home once again in the arms of my wife and children.

But it has been good, darn it. God has actually proved Himself more than faithful to His word, His promise that all things work together for the good for those who love Him. All praise be to One who is the author and perfector of our faith. To Him be all glory and honor, and may I always serve the God who first served me.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

End of an era

I don't think that's too much of an overstatement. The Pope is dying. This man, an acknowledged leader around the world, a man who has led the world's largest Christian religious community for decades, a man who has held the ear of government leaders the world over . . . he is dying. And the world will move on. Is it too much to ask that we stop for just a moment, that the world pause and give thanks to God for what this man has accomplished?

Monday, March 28, 2005

Preaching Job, preaching the Resurrection

BEWARE!!! Long post!
In abscence of anything NEW to say, I'm putting up my sermon I preached yesterday, Easter Sunday. Yes, I was actually dressed up like Job . . . it was kind of fun! But the message is what's important. Read on if you want to hear it.

My name is Job, and I have a living God.

No doubt you’ve heard my story by now. I understand it’s in your book—what do you call it? Ah, yes, the Bible. My story is in what I guess you would call the Old Testament, many years before your time, and even many years before the One Whom you call Jesus was born. Ah, but you’ve heard His story, and you’ve come here for mine . . . yet I suppose that His story and mine do meet . . .
But ach! Where was I? Oh yes . . . my story. I was once one of the greatest men on the earth. Rich . . . very rich. I owned more sheep than you could count, enough camels to fill the desert, and the oxen, and the donkeys, and the servants? Oh, you should have seen them all! God had blessed me with so much . . . but I was rich in more than just things. I had family, and what man is poor when he has family, eh? Oh, my children; seven strong sons—smart as whips, all of them—and three beautiful daughters. They could light up my eyes just walking into the room.
I had wealth, I had family, but the most important treasure I had among them all was my God. He was to me the very breath of life, and I did all I could to follow His ways and to shun evil. The people, they used to say, “Job and God, they’re like two peas in a pod!” . . . I’m kidding, I’m kidding, I’m a kidder . . . but . . . I did feel so close to my God. I didn’t get mixed up with any of that crazy, uh, idol worship. No, no, no . . . I worshipped the true God. I would even make sacrifices for my children just in case they had sinned and cursed God in their hearts.
You see, I thought I understood God, that maybe God was just another good part of my life . . . something I could control. Not that I thought I knew more than God, no, no! But . . . oh, I don’t know . . . all I know is that in one day God took away everything from me. God—He took away my oxen, He took away my donkeys. He took away my sheep, and my servants . . . my camels . . . my children. Oh, my beautiful children! He could have taken away everything else and left me with just them, and I still would have been the richest man on earth! But my children—my strong sons and my beautiful daughters—He took them all away from me, and they died, crushed under a house when it collapsed on them. A house that my wealth had bought. What good is money when it cannot even protect your family? But the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away: Blessed be the name of the Lord.
And so I sat in mourning for days, thinking God had taken everything away from me; but I was wrong. As I sat mourning my children, God took away my health, too. Was I a sight, oy! Sores from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, itching, painful. It was so bad, my wife, she said I should curse God and die. But that’s foolish talk . . . should we take the good from God and not also accept trouble, eh? But still, the pain that was in my heart was worse than the pain in my body, and I wished I had never been born.
Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than for hidden treasure, who are filled with gladness and rejoice when they reach the grave? Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For sighing came to me instead of food; my groans poured out like water. What I feared had come upon me; what I dreaded had happened to me. I had no peace, no quietness; I had no rest, but only turmoil.
And then my friends came to comfort me. My friends! Bah! These friends, their comfort was to tell me that I had sinned, that my God was punishing me! Me! I had done nothing wrong, no evil had escaped my lips! Yet they kept on accusing me. With friends like those, who needs enemies, eh? Men at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping.
My days had passed, my plans were shattered, and so were the desires of my heart. What strength did I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should have been patient? Did I have the strength of stone? Was my flesh bronze? Did I have any power to help myself, when my success had been driven from me?
No, my friends, no. I had no power left, except in my God . . . and He was not answering me. Perhaps if I had been more righteous . . . But how can a mortal be righteous before God? Though one wished to dispute with him, he could not answer him one time out of a thousand. His wisdom is profound, His power is vast. Who has resisted Him and come out unscathed?
But though God would slay me, yet would I trust Him. I would surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, I knew this would turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him! Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I myself will see Him—I, and not another!
These troubles of mine; they were nothing! Because I knew that I had a Redeemer, one who could bring me close to God and bring me to where I could speak with God face to face. My living God was there with me in my troubles! I could not see Him, I could not touch Him, I thought He was not listening . . . but He was there, and He came and spoke to me face to face—which is something you want to avoid, if you can help it! Oh, the lightning, and the glory, and the angels swooping around . . . have you ever tried to pick up after a bunch of angels? Not easy, let me tell you . . .
But where was I? Ah, yes. I know that my Redeemer lives. This Redeemer, He lives for me, and He lives for you. See, even though we are separated by many years, you and I, we have the same Redeemer. For even though I lived many, many years before Jesus Christ was born, God, he gave me those words, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” God gave me those words to help tell the story of Jesus Christ to people like you. Because we’re not so different, you and I . . . we’ve both had our desires shattered . . . we’ve both wondered just where God was in our lives . . . what will happen when our lives end. But this Jesus, He shows us the love God has for us by being a living Redeemer. Yes, you’ve heard the story of how Jesus, He died for you on the cross, but have you heard about He rose for you from the grave just three days later? In your New Testament Peter—Peter, a nice boy, a little emotional perhaps, but a nice boy all the same—Peter, he says God raised Jesus from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. It was impossible for death to keep its hold on him!
This is the love God has for us! This is the thing that kept me strong through my troubles, knowing that my Redeemer was alive, and that through Him I would be alive forever with Him. I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in my flesh I will see Him!

My name is Job, and I have a living God. He . . . is . . . risen!